If you’ve seen my website Kim Stagliano, you know I love all things retro. I was born two decades too late at least. One day, I hope to have a fully modernized retro kitchen loaded with appliances from (Elmira Stoveworks). My friend and former Deb Jenny Gardiner wrote “Sleeping with Ward Cleaver,” and the title was meant to be snarky. (Have you read that book? It’s great!) My first thought when I read the title was, “I’d love to!” I know, I’m an oddball.
So.. to family traditions. As you know by now, I’m the Kimoir’ist who has three girls with autism. Mia is 16, Gianna is 14 and Bella is 10. Because of their autism, we’ve been able to hang onto some traditions that most families have to let go early on – like Santa Claus. Frankly, that’s not as great as it sounds. Parents often talk fondly about how great it would be to keep their kids young. It’s not. It means there’s something seriously awry and it’s terrifying. You need to let your kids grow older, for their sake. However, this is our reality, so we make the best of it. We will put out gluten free cookies and coconut milk (yes, Santa is on the GFCF diet in our house) and we talk endlessly about his arrival.
Other traditions we’ve had to relinquish. My Dad loves to read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (The Night Before Christmas) aloud on Christmas Eve. Each year he tries to read to my girls. They wriggle off his lap or beeline over to their computers faster than Blitzen can land on your roof. They simply aren’t interested. I know that kind of hurts him. I also know we have to choose our battles, and it’s not worth forcing the girls to listen.
One tradition I hope never to experience again is being a paper mitten on the holiday giving tree at Church. Twice. It’s in the book – we were really struggling and some kind soul at Church added our name to the list of families in need. It was humbling – and I’ve learned much from the experience. I’m mostly grateful to have felt the sting of being officially “poor” – it has made me more empathetic to others. That’s a good lesson. Albeit harsh while we were learning.
When we sold our lovely home in 2005 (Mark had been out of work for over a year and we moved from Ohio to Mass to live with my parents) I sold most of our Christmas decorations. I had a gorgeous retro Santa wreath I’d had custom made, 16 wreaths for our windows, strings of net lights, bric a brack, gosh, you name it. We couldn’t afford to store so much stuff – we needed to pare down. And so we did. When we rented a house in CT in 2006, slowly getting back on our feet, I realized I didn’t have much for Christmas decorations beside our tree trimmings and a few things the girls had made. I also kept my childhood Christmas books. I have about ten books that I use as decorations. They are old friends I visit every year. I still needed some decorations – so I went to ebay – and over the last couple of years I’ve bought lots of inexpensive, retro holiday decorations. Elves, table cloths, plastic light up Santa, cute candles – all from the 1950s or early 1960s.
Autism and unemployment have changed my thinking on tradition – and in a good way. Being together as a family comes first and foremost. I’ll always hang our stockings by the chimney with care. The table will sparkle with the Lenox Holiday china Mark got when he worked for Lenox at the start of our marriage. Each dish reminds me of our first days of marriage. “Before autism.” My menu is flexibile, although I always include some Italian treats and serve seafood on Christmas Eve (baked stuffed shrimp on Friday!) This year we’re serving lasagne on Christmas – why not? I’ve learned that I can let go of some things I thought I needed and I can always recreate the true joy of the holiday, even on a shoestring budget because life is NOT about “stuff” after all.
My house looks old fashioned and warm and inviting – I wish you could come over for a visit. Do you like gluten free cookies? And do you mind if my 88 year old Dad reads to you?